Class AAAA: Mays girls at Flowery Branch, 6 p.m.
Class AAA: Chestatee girls at LaGrange, 7 p.m.;
North Hall girls at Carrollton, 6 p.m.
Class AA: East Hall girls at Buford,
7 p.m.; Union County at Greater Atlanta Christian, 7 p.m.
Class A: Mount Zion-Carroll at Towns County, 7 p.m.
Class AAA: Gainesville boys at Troup, TBA; Shaw boys at West Hall, 7 p.m.
Class AA: Decatur boys at East Hall,
7 p.m.; Buford boys at Rabun County, 5 p.m.
The first round of the state basketball playoffs is just the beginning of a grueling stretch over the next three weeks for those looking to grab a state title.
The games get more challenging each round for those searching to make it to Macon for the state semifinals, or in the case of Flowery Branch’s girls in Class AAAA to the Gwinnett Arena for the final four.
The main storylines for this year’s postseason locally are pretty easy to spot. The Buford High girls (24-3) are looking to make it three straight state titles in Class AA, but first have to get past a scrappy East Hall (15-10) program on Friday.
Meanwhile, people will have an eye on the East Hall boys (22-5), a team that appears to be a factor in the race for the Class AA title and has a chance to make it back to Macon for the first time since 2007.
And the West Hall boys are looking to shake off last Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss at the buzzer against Franklin County in the Region 8-AAA title game. Spartans (23-5) coach Warren Sellers knows they have a great chance at doing something special in the postseason with a group of seniors that have played together now for years. The Spartans open the Class AAA playoffs at home against Shaw at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Our kids are really excited for the playoffs,” Sellers said. “That was a tough, tough loss for us in the region title game, but overall I thought we played well.”
As for the Lady Falcons (10-19), they are surprised as anyone to still be playing. Just like in 2010, Flowery Branch caught fire in the region tournament, beating Heritage, Madison County and Loganville to lock up a first-round home playoff game for the first time in school history, according to sophomore forward Tavia Sykes.
“We definitely caught ourselves by surprise and kind of are in awe with how things went,” Sykes said. “Right now, we’re a young team and feel like we got nothing to lose in the playoffs.
“Since we’re so young, we didn’t feel like we had any pressure in the region tournament and just didn’t want our season to end.”
Of course, the biggest thing about playing in the playoffs is that your team still has a chance. The Gainesville boys lost in the semifinals of the Region 8-AAA tournament, ensuring the Red Elephants will have to play on the road in the first round as a No. 3 seed.
Gainesville has to make about a three-hour drive down to LaGrange to play Troup on Saturday in a first-round matchup, but that amount of travel doesn’t seem to bother Red Elephants coach Todd Cottrell.
“It’s just good to still be playing,” Cottrell said. “Our guys are excited to play and we’re just looking forward to a good week of practice.”
For many, Monday was a day to rest some weary legs after most teams played three games in three days during region tournaments.
Sellers said West Hall took the day off from practice Monday, but will be able to tack on practices on Friday and a walk through on Saturday afternoon before playing that evening. He said it was hard to keep the kids from practicing for the day, but knew it was best to take a day off and start to create a game plan by watching film of Shaw first.
“Our kids came in so upbeat today,” Sellers said. “It was hard to tell them that we were taking the day off because they were ready to get back to work.”
Buford girls coach Gene Durden is thrilled with the momentum of his team coming off a Region 6-AA championship, most notably the Lady Wolves’ effort on defense.
In the region tournament, Buford allowed 29 points against Jackson-Atlanta, 31 against Lovett and 30 in the championship game against Greater Atlanta Christian.
For their effort, the Lady Wolves will host the Lady Vikings in the first round. Durden knows with the following that both of these programs have, it will be an enthusiastic environment for playoff basketball on Friday in Buford.
“Earlier this season, we hosted Columbia for just a girls game and we had a packed house,” Durden said. “We know how much East Hall loves its basketball program and expect it to be a great atmosphere.”